Pitt Falls to NC State 79-76

C.J. Bryce scored 21 points, including three free throws in the final 10 seconds, as North Carolina State edged Pitt, 79-76, Saturday at the Petersen Events Center.

North Caroina State Junior Guard Markell Johnson in Game against Pittsburgh 2/09/19 (Photo Credit : Vince Butts -UMT Sports )

“Tough loss. Very, very tough loss.” Said Pitt head coach Jeff Capel. “Congrats to NC State, they made some big shots down on the stretch. That Markell Johnson three at the top, I thought we played good defense. I’m proud of my team. We’ve continued to fight through adversity. We’re on the ropes a little bit right now, but we have to fight our way off it and we have to do it together.”

Bryce went to the line with the Wolfpack (17-7, 5-7 ACC) holding onto a one-point lead and 9.9 seconds left. He calmly drained both free throws in front of Pitt’s blacked-out Oakland Zoo student section. N.C. State opted to foul ahead by three.

(LtoR) DJ Funderburk (#0) of North Carolina State tries to stop Pitts’ Sidy N’Dir (#11) from getting his shot off. (Photo Credit: Vince Butts UMT-Sports)

Pitt’s Sidy N’Dir made just one of two with 7 seconds remaining. Bryce grabbed his seventh and final rebound and made one of two with 5.5 seconds left. N’Dir collected the rebound and weaved his way through traffic but his off-balance 3-pointer from outside the top of the key was left all the way as time expired.

“It’s been a really adverse week for us, a heartbreaking loss on Tuesday and obviously Malik’s Ellison injury.” Said Capel. “Then we had a couple days where we had guys out of practice sick—really, really sick. For the guys that were able to get out here on the court and give us minutes today, I’m really proud of them and I wish there was something we could do to get this feeling out of us, but we must continue to fight. We have to continue to do the little things and understand the importance of it and the importance of doing them at every possession.”

Pitt Freshman Guard Xavier Johnson on his way to the hoop in Panthers loss to N.C. State (Photo credit: Vince Butts -UMT Sports)

Xavier Johnson led Pitt (12-12, 2-9) with 17 points to go with five rebounds and four assists. Jared Wilson-Frame hit 6 of 7 shots to finish with 16 points, N’Dir and Terrell Brown added 12 each and Trey McGowens finished with 11 points.

Pitt had three chances to tie it during an extended possession with around a minute to go but Johnson, N’Dir and Brown all saw their potentially game-tying 3-pointers go awry. Johnson did make two free throws to get Pitt within 76-75.

“I thought we exhibited that today except for the start of the second half. I thought we did some really good things.” Said Capel.

The Wolfpack built a slim 41-38 halftime lead, relying heavily on an offensive rebounding advantage and some sloppy play by the Panthers, who turned it over 11 times in the opening 20 minutes.

N.C. State pushed the advantage to 14 early in the second half before Pitt responded with an 18-2 surge led by Wilson-Frame and N’Dir to briefly go in front 61-59.

The momentum didn’t last. Dorn and Bryce knocked down 3-pointers on the Wolfpack’s next two trips and while Pitt managed to tie it a couple of times, the Panthers couldn’t quite sneak out in front again.

The Panthers remain engaged under first-year coach Jeff Capel, but they’ve now lost seven consecutive games, the last three all by 10 points or less. They must now try to end their losing streak as they visit Boston College on Tuesday at 7.

“We are a team and we have a very, very small margin of error and every play we have to be mentally and physically locked in.” Said Capel. “We are learning how to do that and haven’t figured it completely out yet, but today was a positive step although the outcome wasn’t what we wanted it to be.”

Please e-mail Ray at ray@urbanmediatoday.com

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